Hero pilot returns to crash scene

Former pilot Tom Scotland, left, when he was reunited with Bill Duncanson, who witnessed his Halifax plane crashing over fields in Spen.
Former pilot Tom Scotland, left, when he was reunited with Bill Duncanson, who witnessed his Halifax plane crashing over fields in Spen.

the pilot of a Halifax bomber which crashed into fields in Spen almost 70 years ago is to make an emotional return to the spot where the accident happened.

Tom Scotland miraculously escaped from the wreckage of the plane on Boxing Day, 1943, and was taken by rescuers to the Saville Arms in Hunsworth where he was given a stiff drink to help him recover.

Among those who witnessed the dramatic events was a young boy, Bill Duncanson, who – with his friends – saw the plane clipping trees and ploughing through hedges and walls before it finally crashed in Devil’s Glen in the village of Drub.

As Tom stumbled out of the wreckage, people rushed to the scene and took the dazed 19-year-old pilot to the nearby pub. Bill and his friends followed on their bikes and peered through the windows to watch the ‘hero in a flying suit’ downing a pint.

That was the last Bill saw of Tom – until 2003 when they were reunited by chance in Australia where incredibly they both now lived – just 10 miles apart.

Their story was told in the Spenborough Guardian at the time, and the pair are now making a return visit to Spen as guests of the Yorkshire Wartime Experience War Weekend in Hunsworth from June 22-24.

While browsing on the Spenborough Guardian website from his home in Perth last month, Bill read about the war weekend and the news that the Red Arrows were doing a fly-past, and contacted organiser Stuart Wright.

Stuart said: “I couldn’t believe it! I’d never heard this story of the plane crash, but Bill told me the bomber would have clipped the trees in the very same fields we’re using for the war weekend.

“It was such a bizarre coincidence. He and Tom will be coming over so we will make them our VIP guests for the whole weekend.

“They will also be here on the Friday when we will have 900 children from 12 schools coming along free, to learn about what it was really like during the war.

“And during the weekend Bill and Tom will visit the Elvington air museum near York to see one of only two surviving Halifax bombers.”

Plans are now well under way for the weekend which will see re-enactments, live-firing displays, tanks and other military vehicles and pyrotechnics.

The event is on a 30 acre site off Hunsworth Lane, and use of the land has been given free by its owner Steve Robinson.

The fly-past by the Red Arrows will take place on the Sunday afternoon at a time to be confirmed.

For more information and ticket prices visit www.ywe-event.info. Money raised will go to the Royal British Legion and the SSAFA Armed Forces charities.